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Johnny Manziel returns to the gridiron in The Spring League

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AUSTIN, Texas — Quarterback Johnny Manziel played in a football game Saturday for the first time in 832 days, a modest step in his long road back to elite-level football.

Playing the equivalent of two quarters at a high school stadium in the Austin suburbs, Manziel threw one touchdown pass but was also sacked three times in what looked like the fourth quarter of an NFL preseason game. The outing followed nine days of practice among 170 players who paid a fee to participate in The Spring League, which bills itself as a developmental league that provides opportunities for players who are not on NFL rosters but hope to be.

The league has one more set of games scheduled for Thursday, after which Manziel hopes to receive interest from NFL teams. If not, he has said he likely will make a two-year commitment to play in the Canadian Football League.

Manziel’s CFL rights are owned by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Their general manager, Eric Tillman, was among the NFL and CFL representatives in attendance. A total of 17 NFL teams have sent scouts to practices, according to The Spring League CEO Brian Woods.

Manziel attended high school about two hours away in Kerrville, Texas, and most of the estimated 2,500 in attendance Saturday at Kelly Reeves Stadium appeared to be in support of their local hero. Manziel showed some glimpses of his playmaking ability, leaving the pocket twice for completions — including the touchdown — while also scrambling once for 11 yards. The competition is inferior to what he would face either in the NFL or the CFL, but he gave scouts of both leagues an important check-in on his progress.

“You can get there only by working in this kind of environment,” said Terry Shea, a longtime NFL and college coach who is leading The Spring League’s football operations. “If he were back home throwing to his buddies against air, he wouldn’t get any of this, so from this standpoint, I would say he’s really grown here.

“I’ve never been around Johnny Manziel until this moment of time, but I see a very quick arm. I see very active eyes. He sees things, and those classic Johnny Manziel plays, particularly when he’s on the move, I’ve seen those come up here.”

Manziel last played in a game on Dec. 27, 2015, near the end of his second season with the Cleveland Browns. The Browns released him in March 2016, and he plunged into a two-year spiral of substance abuse that he often chronicled on social media. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and has been treated for depression.

NFL teams are opening their offseason programs this month. CFL training camps start May 16 for rookies, and the league’s regular season begins June 14.

Realistically, Manziel has about a month to decide whether to hold out for an NFL job or make a two-year commitment to the CFL. If it’s the latter, he wouldn’t be eligible to play in the NFL until November 2019 at the earliest.

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Judging Week 3 NFL overreactions

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It felt as if Bears coach Matt Nagy overreacted Sunday when he yanked starting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky from the game and put in Nick Foles. Sure, Trubisky hadn’t been great against the Falcons. And he’d just thrown a drive-killing interception. But we’ve certainly seen him look worse, and besides, the Bears were off to a 2-0 start with Trubisky under center.

By the time Foles went into the game, I’d begun thinking about the weekly overreactions column and all I could think was that Nagy was trying to bigfoot me. Here he was overreacting before I even opened my Word document!

But then I looked again, realized whom the Bears were playing, and decided this had a chance to look real good for Nagy. Which, in the end, it did.

It didn’t start out great, as Foles’ first drive ended with his own interception. But the accommodating Falcons kept giving him the ball back quickly and Foles took advantage. He led the Bears back from a 26-10 fourth-quarter deficit with three touchdown passes against Atlanta, which blew a 15-point fourth-quarter lead to the Cowboys a week earlier. Trubisky watched from the sideline, probably excited that the Bears won the game but also having to wonder whether he’d just lost his job.

The Bears have to be the weirdest team in the league right now. They’re 3-0 and have no idea who their quarterback is. They came back from a 23-6 fourth-quarter deficit against the Lions in Week 1. They nearly blew a 17-0 lead to a horrendous-looking Giants team in Week 2. And then this.

So where better to start this week’s overreactions than in Chicago, where Nagy looked like he was trying to get the jump on us but in fact was just making the right gut call at the right time:

Mitchell Trubisky has started his last game for the Bears

If Trubisky’s performance was the reason for Sunday’s benching, it’s hard to see how what followed would change Nagy’s mind. After the interception, Foles looked like his old Eagles Super Bowl MVP self. He finished 16-for-29 passing for 188 yards and three touchdowns. He figured out how to find Allen Robinson, his best receiver, pretty much every time he needed to. He was, for one brilliant quarter, everything the Bears want and need their quarterback to be if they’re going to contend for an NFC playoff spot. If you were sick of Trubisky in the third quarter, you were all-in on Foles in the fourth.

The verdict: OVERREACTION. Surely, Foles will start next week against the Colts. But he’s a career backup who hasn’t always been the picture of health and has lost starting quarterback competitions on four different teams — including his current team less than a month ago. The Bears’ coaching staff thought enough of Trubisky’s progress by the end of August that they gave him the job over Foles.

And here’s the big thing: Foles didn’t do anything Sunday that Trubisky didn’t do against the Lions in Week 1! Who’s to say that full-game Foles is going to look like fourth-quarter Foles did Sunday. Yes, the Bears will try it. But his history indicates that at some point they’ll have to at least consider going back to the No. 2 pick in the 2017 draft.

I stand by my preseason prediction that each of these guys starts at least six games for the Bears this season. Trubisky is halfway there. How close will Foles get before they switch back? And better question: If they keep winning all of their games, does it matter?


The NFC East is worse than ever

When all the divisions are on the playground, the NFC East is the one everyone else makes fun of. “Your division’s so bad, the team that had the best day Sunday tied the Bengals!” Sick burn, other divisions, but the truth hurts.

The Eagles called and executed plays in the final moments of overtime against the Bengals without trying to win — content to tie one of the league’s worst teams even after a last-minute regulation comeback from their embattled quarterback — and still gained a half-game on every other team in the division. Washington and Dallas are tied for first place at 1-2. The only two wins the NFC East has through three weeks are (1) against another NFC East team and (2) against the Falcons, who basically use only nine guys on defense in the fourth quarter.

The NFC East is a combined 2-9-1 through three weeks. That’s a .208 winning percentage — the second worst by any division after three weeks since the league went to eight divisions in 2002. The 2002 AFC North was 2-8 after three weeks.

The verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. I’m not ready to say the NFC East champion won’t have a winning record — the 2002 AFC North ended up with two teams over .500, and one of them was the Browns — but it’s not impossible.

The Cowboys have allowed 78 points over the past two weeks, and their only win was a historic miracle. The Washington Fumble Team came back to beat the Eagles in Week 1 but has turned the ball over seven times in the two games since. Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz has three touchdown passes, six interceptions and hasn’t hit 50.0 in Total QBR in any of his three games. And the Giants just lost 36-9 to a team composed almost entirely of 49ers backups. Not sure if the math works this way, but it’s possible that if you can’t beat a team’s backups, you can’t be considered one of the top 32 teams in the league.

It’s ugly out here in these NFC East streets, and none of these teams has even had to play the Ravens yet. (And they all will.)


Adam Gase will be fired if the Jets lose to Denver on Thursday night

Again, the Giants lost by four touchdowns to a team missing at least nine starters, and there’s a legitimate debate in New York about which team is worse. Gase made the playoffs in 2016, his first year as Dolphins coach, but he’s 20-31 since, and it’s safe to say his reputation as an offensive mastermind has taken some hits.

No team gained fewer yards last season than the Jets, and only Washington scored fewer points. The Jets entered Sunday last in the league in yards and added only 260 in the blowout loss to the Colts. Their 37 points through three games so far is the lowest total in the league — one point behind those aforementioned Giants. And perhaps the most damning case against Gase is the way guys like Ryan Tannehill, Kenyan Drake, DeVante Parker and Robby Anderson have played since they parted company with him.

The verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. The Broncos team the Jets play Thursday is also 0-3 and has scored just 40 points. But Denver had to play Sunday without its injured starting quarterback and its best wide receiver. The Jets, yes, are extremely banged up at receiver, but even so, the third year of Sam Darnold was supposed to be one in which he showed real progress. Sunday, he was 17-for-29 passing for 168 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions, two of which were returned for Colts touchdowns.

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Kalen Ballage tries to leap over a Colts defender, but he takes two big hits instead and is stopped in his tracks.

The Jets traded up and took Darnold No. 3 overall in the 2018 draft, and they have a fifth-year option decision to make on him this spring. He needs to show growth if they’re going to commit to him beyond 2021, and if they end up with the first pick in the draft their fans will want them to take Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and start over again at the position. This is not a good spot for a coach to occupy.

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported Sunday morning that ownership was growing restless and Gase’s seat was getting hotter. If the Jets are 0-4 after Thursday night, they have 10 days before their next game and time to make a change if they want to. Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams went 5-3 as interim coach of the Browns after they fired Hue Jackson two years ago — just sayin’.


Deshaun Watson‘s crew made a game of it Sunday but couldn’t hold on against Pittsburgh, and the Texans are 0-3 for the second time in three years. Tennessee leads the AFC South at 3-0, followed closely by 2-1 Indianapolis, and both look like legitimate contenders. After an offseason in which coach/general manager Bill O’Brien caught a lot of heat for trading away top wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins over a contract dispute, the slow start isn’t helping anyone give him the benefit of the doubt.

The verdict: OVERREACTION. Remember a couple of seconds ago when I said the Texans were 0-3 for the second time in three years? Yeah, well, they recovered and won the division in 2018. And they’ve won it four of the past five years. You can bang on O’Brien’s GM decisions if you want, but as a coach he has shown an ability to make the playoffs.

The Texans still have the best quarterback in the division, Ryan Tannehill‘s sizzling start notwithstanding. And it’s entirely possible that the three teams they’ve played so far — Kansas City, Baltimore and Pittsburgh — are the three best teams in the entire league. What did they do to get the schedule-makers so mad at them? Swear, when I checked their schedule while writing this, I half-expected their next two games to be against Buffalo and Seattle. They are not.

The Texans, though, are unquestionably through the toughest part of their schedule. They have two head-to-head games against each of their division opponents. There are seven playoff spots in each conference this season. And they’ve been here before. It’s too early to panic in Houston.


Drew Brees is part of the problem in New Orleans

The Saints lost to the Packers on Sunday night to fall to 1-2, six days after they lost to the Raiders in Las Vegas. Their 41-year-old quarterback looked sharper than he did in Week 2, but he still seemed reluctant to take shots downfield, and running back Alvin Kamara did the bulk of his yardage work for him after the catch. Kamara had 57 yards after the catch on his 52-yard touchdown catch. Think about that. Brees came into the game averaging 4.81 air yards per attempt, and Sunday night he averaged 4.61. Those are really low numbers, and they’re moving in the wrong direction.

The verdict: OVERREACTION. This was a close one, but I’m giving the future Hall of Famer the benefit of the doubt. Brees isn’t going to win games on arm strength at this point. No shame in that. But if he can be accurate and smart and operate the offense in rhythm, he has enough brilliant players around him to make it work. Michael Thomas, who set an NFL record with 149 catches in a season a year ago, has missed the last two games due to injury and should be back soon. Tight end Jared Cook left Sunday’s game in the first half with an injury.

The Saints’ 25 penalties for 336 yards this season. feel like a bigger reason for their current predicament. Once the rest of the Saints’ offense is whole, we should see a better and more consistently sharp Brees, and a New Orleans team that recovers from its 1-2 start and contends for the NFC South title as we all expected. I could be wrong, but I think, given the circumstances, that it’s too soon to give up on Brees in 2020.



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Next great NFL QB rivalry

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BALTIMORE — Toward the end of the 2018 NFL season — when Patrick Mahomes was launching bomb after bomb and Lamar Jackson was just starting to make his meme-making runs — a high-ranking Baltimore Ravens official stood on the practice field and made this keen observation:

The Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs landed the NFL’s most feared players because they showed no fear in drafting them.

Baltimore and Kansas City had the opportunity to play it safe a few years ago by sticking with winning, albeit not scintillating, quarterbacks. The Chiefs had a three-time Pro Bowl performer in Alex Smith, and the Ravens had a former Super Bowl MVP in Joe Flacco.

Instead, in the 2017 and 2018 drafts, these teams shocked the football world by aggressively trading up in the first round for two prospects who were deemed risks. Mahomes and Jackson went from being passed over for the likes of Mitchell Trubisky and Josh Rosen to being the past two NFL MVPs.

As the Ravens play host to the Chiefs under the national spotlight of Monday Night Football (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN), the question is no longer whether Mahomes and Jackson can make it as NFL quarterbacks. It’s whether everyone is witnessing the early stages of the league’s next great quarterback rivalry.

“These two are the future,” said retired All-Pro safety Eric Weddle, who has played against both Mahomes and Jackson. “You are not a smart individual if you didn’t put some money on these two having some amazing games over the next six to 10 years. It’s going to be Brady-Manning all over again.”

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning battled for AFC supremacy 17 times from 2001 to 2016. They combined for eight Super Bowl titles and eight NFL MVP awards. Their head-to-head clashes defined an entire era.

Scott Pioli, an NFL Network analyst who was a personnel executive for the Patriots from 2000 to 2008, cautions that it’s too early to compare Mahomes-Jackson — a budding rivalry heading into its third meeting — to the league’s all-time best quarterback duel. He believes it’s unfair to anyone to debate generations of football because today’s game is different from the one played in the 2000s.

“To me, it’s one of those things: Leave the comparisons behind and just enjoy it for what it is,” Pioli said. “Unintentionally, those comparisons cause people to have discussions and conversations that become disrespectful to other people’s greatness.”

Brady and Manning represent the old guard of pocket passers who stood in the face of blitzes and beat defenses purely with their arms and awareness. The way they dissected defenses proved to be methodical and surgical.

Mahomes and Jackson lead the new wave of quarterbacking, flush with imagination, mobility and unpredictability. When Mahomes and Jackson go on the run, defenses don’t know when Mahomes’ next no-look pass or Jackson’s dizzying spin move will get unleashed and immortalized on social media.

Beyond the way they play the game, what differentiates Brady-Manning from Mahomes-Jackson is when they played their games. Brady and Manning collided five times in the postseason, including four AFC Championship Games.

Mahomes and Jackson have delivered two entertaining meetings in the regular season — a combined 112 points and 1,718 yards — but they have yet to tangle when it matters the most. Jackson and the Ravens would’ve advanced to face the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game last season, but Baltimore was upset by the Tennessee Titans in the divisional round.

“I would like to see them match up in a championship game before I proclaim that we’re going to see this year in and year out,” said Damien Woody, an ESPN analyst and former New England offensive lineman from 1999 to 2003. “When I played with the Patriots, it seemed like we were meeting the Colts almost every year in the AFC Championship Game. So, do I think [Mahomes and Jackson] have the potential to do that? Absolutely.”

A playoff meeting seems like an inevitable next chapter for two quarterbacks who’ve quickly rewritten the NFL history books:

  • By the age of 24, Mahomes became the youngest quarterback to win an NFL MVP award and Super Bowl ring. At the age of 22, Jackson became the youngest to win NFL MVP.

  • In 2018, Mahomes became the second player ever to throw 50 touchdown passes and for 5,000 yards passing in the same season, joining Manning. In 2019, Jackson became the first player to produce more than 30 touchdown passes and 1,000 yards rushing.

  • Mahomes (26-7) and Jackson (21-3) have a combined win percentage of .825, which is the best entering a matchup for two quarterbacks who’ve started at least 20 games in their careers, according to Elias Sports Bureau research.

While Jackson has downplayed his matchup with Mahomes because they’re never on the field at the same time, he acknowledged this rivalry can be special.

“It’s really cool,” Jackson said. “I’m going against a great talent like him — a guy who can throw the ball anywhere he wants on the field and make things happen each and every game. It’s very exciting.”

Mutual respect

Just like Brady and Manning, there is a mutual respect, or envy in some regard, between Mahomes and Jackson.

Jackson first crossed paths with Mahomes at a quarterback camp in the spring of 2018, when Jackson had just finished his final season at Louisville and Mahomes had wrapped up his NFL rookie season. After watching Mahomes fling the ball around, Jackson wondered: “He’s awesome. How is he a backup?”

Mahomes and Jackson have followed a similar trajectory. Both began their rookie seasons as backups and then won NFL MVP in their first full seasons as starters.

After Mahomes followed up his MVP award with a Super Bowl title, Jackson said, “I’ve got to win the Super Bowl. I’ve got to get where he’s at.”

Some say Brady and Manning drove each other to greatness. Could the same be said of Mahomes and Jackson?

“It’s something that comes with the competitiveness of it,” Ravens offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. said. “Is it something I’ve heard Lamar talk about? No. Is it something you’ll probably hear Patrick Mahomes talk about? No. I think it’s only natural in this profession that you kind of feel and understand.”

Mahomes and Jackson have gotten to know each other through similar endorsement deals, and they’ve shown how much they appreciate each other’s games over the past year.

In a 23-3 win over the Denver Broncos last December, Mahomes sidestepped a defender to throw a pass to convert a 2-point conversion. A miked-up Mahomes said on the sideline: “Did I look like Lamar with that juke? That’s as close as I can get right there.”

A few months later, Jackson repaid the compliment when asked what would be one aspect of Mahomes’ game that he would take.

“I want that cannon,” Jackson told Bleacher Report. “He’s got a cannon arm.”

The styles of Jackson and Mahomes are more similar than many like to admit. Mahomes is an underrated runner who leads the NFL in scramble yards (325) since returning from a knee injury in Week 10 of last season (Jackson has 271 scramble yards over that span). Jackson is an underrated passer with a league-best 82.4 QBR from within the pocket since the start of last season (Mahomes is fifth with 77.0).

The true common ground between Mahomes and Jackson is the end result. Jackson (winner of 13 straight) and Mahomes (eight in a row) hold the two longest active win streaks in the regular season. Heading into Monday night, it will have been 323 days since either lost a regular-season start.

Just like Brady and Manning, the success of Mahomes and Jackson will continually be measured against the other.

“When Brady’s going up against Payton Manning and basically you guys are on the same level,” Woody said. “They don’t want to lose to the other one. They know how important it is to their legacy, so I can definitely forsee the same type of thing happening here.”

The future of the rivalry

It can be argued that Mahomes and Jackson can’t officially have a rivalry until Jackson beats him.

In the NFL’s greatest quarterback battle, Brady dominated by winning the first six meetings with Manning and finished with an 11-6 edge. This shaped the careers of Brady, who became known for racking up the rings, and Manning, who became known for racking up the records.

If Jackson loses for a third straight time to Mahomes, would he be considered the “Manning” in this matchup?

“Yeah, I think that could be a fair kind of attachment to each player,” said Dan Orlovsky, an ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback. “It would become a fair point and/or criticism as well.”

Since taking over as the Ravens’ starting quarterback in the middle of 2018, Jackson is 0-2 against the Chiefs and 21-1 against the rest of the NFL in the regular season.

Mahomes knows Jackson’s motivation level on Monday night. In 2018, Mahomes went 13-5 as a starter (including postseason), but two of his losses came to Brady.

“I understand he’s going to be driven,” Mahomes said. “Whenever you play another team that is of his caliber and our team coming off a Super Bowl win, it’s going to be a great game. You want to go out there and find a way to win. That goes every single week, but especially this one because you know you’re probably going to play this team in the playoffs.”

In a reminder that the league is cyclical, Orlovsky was outspoken this offseason that Brady go to the NFC to have a better shot at getting to the Super Bowl again. Brady went from competing in the NFL’s best quarterback rivalry to being advised to go elsewhere because of Mahomes and Jackson.

“This is the next big quarterback rivalry,” Orlovsky said. “There’s no question about it, because if you look at the rivalry between Tom and Peyton, it wasn’t just the quarterback. They were remarkable, but it was the coaching staffs that both had. It was the front office and organizations they both had. That really sets those guys up for the long term, sustained success, and they both have that.”

In five to 10 years, who will come out on top of this rivalry? Nearly all of the experts pointed at Mahomes.

It’s based on a concern about Jackson’s running and how that will affect his durability for the long term. “When I think about Lamar, I wouldn’t change anything with the way he’s playing,” said Jeff Saturday, an ESPN expert who played Manning’s center for 12 seasons. “But sustainability, does it shorten his career? History would say probably. You wonder how long. I would just ride it until you can’t do it anymore.”

Monday night marks another step in the rivalry between Mahomes and Jackson. It’s the first time they will play each other in front of national television audience.

Mahomes and Jackson have thrived as prime-time players. When playing under the lights, Jackson has averaged 36.5 points and Mahomes has scored 31.7 points per game. That’s the two highest totals by starting quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era.

“The whole world is watching you,” Jackson said. “It’s just time to put on a show.”

It’s Mahomes-Jackson, Round 3.



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Patrick Mahomes against Lamar Jackson and other highly anticipated quarterback matchups of the past 70 years

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Monday Night Football’s Week 3 game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the host Baltimore Ravens features a matchup within the matchup: Patrick Mahomes versus Lamar Jackson.

Mahomes won MVP in 2018 and followed it up with a Super Bowl MVP last season. Jackson is coming off his own MVP season, in which he rushed for 1,206 yards. And both former first-round quarterbacks are still very early in their respective careers.

The game itself promises to be exciting — it holds the ninth-highest regular-season matchup rating from ESPN Stats & Information (94.7) since the metric was created in 2008 — and these two quarterbacks are a big reason why. How does Mahomes-Jackson 3 (they have played twice, both Chiefs victories) stack up against other highly anticipated QB matchups in the history of the NFL? Let’s take a quick look at the best of the best in QB showdown intrigue, going back 70 years (ordered by date).


Headline: Matchup of past two MVPs
Date: Sept. 28, 2020

This game checks off every box. It’s the first meeting between former MVPs age 25 or younger in NFL history, per the Elias Sports Bureau. It’s also a matchup between the reigning MVP (Jackson) and Super Bowl MVP (Mahomes). Mahomes had 50 passing touchdowns and 5,000 passing yards in 2018, while Jackson broke Michael Vick’s single-season QB rushing record in 2019.

They own the two longest active regular-season win streaks among starting quarterbacks in the NFL; Jackson has been the victor in 13 straight, while Mahomes is riding an eight-game streak. Both are capable of making jaw-dropping plays, from throws on the run to highlight-reel spin moves, on center stage on Monday Night Football.


Headline: First matchup of 40-year-old QBs
Date: Sept. 13, 2020

Don’t forget the Bucs-Saints season opener. It was Brady’s Buccaneers debut and the first time we’ve seen two 40-year-old QBs face off in NFL history. Brees and Brady entered the game first and second, respectively, in all-time touchdown passes. The previous game between the top two touchdown passers of all time had been in 1949, between Sammy Baugh and Sid Luckman. Brady’s Bucs debut didn’t go as scripted, though, as he threw two interceptions, including a pick-six, in the 34-23 loss.


Headline: An overdue first matchup
Date: Nov. 30, 2014

This was the long-overdue first meeting between Brady and Rodgers. Brady was “just” a three-time Super Bowl winner and two-time MVP at the time, and Rodgers was a Super Bowl MVP and NFL MVP. It was also hyped as a Super Bowl preview and battle for MVP, as they entered tied for the best Total QBR (79.6) in the NFL. The Packers won 26-21 after a late Brady drive stalled. Rodgers went on to win MVP, but Brady won another Super Bowl.


Headline: Favre’s first game against the Packers
Date: Oct. 5, 2009

This might have been the most hyped grudge match ever. Favre, a three-time MVP winner, entered his first game against his former team and the QB who replaced him, Rodgers, on Monday Night Football in Minnesota. Favre threw three touchdown passes and no interceptions, while Rodgers was sacked eight times. The Vikings improved to 4-0 by defeating the Packers 30-23. And with the victory, Favre became the first quarterback in NFL history to beat all 32 teams.


Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning

Headline: A battle of the unbeatens
Date: Nov. 4, 2007

Hyped as the biggest regular-season game of all time, it featured the 8-0 Patriots and 7-0 Colts and perhaps the greatest quarterback rivalry ever. Brady and Manning ranked first and second in Total QBR, respectively, entering the game. Brady, a three-time Super Bowl winner, was halfway to a historic season, and Manning was the reigning Super Bowl MVP. It lived up to the hype, as New England overcame a 10-point deficit behind two fourth-quarter touchdowns from Brady. Pats win 24-20.


Steve Young vs. Joe Montana

Headline: Montana’s only game vs. 49ers
Date: Sept. 11, 1994

Montana was traded to the Chiefs after winning four Super Bowls and two MVPs with the 49ers, while Young, who won NFL MVP in 1992, was still in search of his first Super Bowl. That was the stage for the only grudge match between Montana and the 49ers. Montana tossed two touchdown passes in the Chiefs’ 24-17 victory.


Dan Marino vs. John Elway

Headline: The first meeting of two stars
Date: Sept. 29, 1985

Alums of the 1983 NFL draft class, Marino and Elway met for the first time in 1985. Like Mahomes and Jackson, they were two of the biggest faces in the game. In 1984, Marino shattered NFL records for single-season passing yards and touchdowns en route to an MVP and a Super Bowl appearance. Elway and the Broncos were coming off a 13-3 season. The Dolphins won 30-26 behind 390 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions from Marino.


Terry Bradshaw vs. Roger Staubach

Headline: Super Bowl rematch
Date: Oct. 28, 1979

Bradshaw and Staubach went head-to-head nine months after the Steelers beat the Cowboys 35-31 in Super Bowl XIII. This game featured the previous two Super Bowl-winning QBs, and Bradshaw was the reigning MVP and Super Bowl MVP. Staubach was also in the midst of his final season, when he’d throw 27 touchdown passes. The Steelers won this game, though, 14-3.


Bart Starr vs. Johnny Unitas

Headline: A pair of MVPs and Super Bowl champs
Date: Nov. 5, 1967

It doesn’t get much better than Starr against Unitas, especially given the circumstances in 1967. Starr was the reigning MVP and Super Bowl MVP. Unitas was the NFL’s all-time passing yards leader, a two-time MVP and two-time champ. The Packers had also eliminated the Colts from championship contention late in the 1966 season. This time Unitas got revenge by throwing a touchdown pass to Willie Richardson in the final two minutes to help the Colts win 13-10 and stay unbeaten.


Otto Graham vs. Norm Van Brocklin/Bob Waterfield

Headline: NFL championship rematch
Date: Oct. 7, 1951

This was a rematch of the 1950 NFL championship game, won by the Browns on a late field goal. There was more intrigue, though, with three Hall of Fame quarterbacks now in the mix: the Browns’ Graham against the Rams’ QB committee of Van Brocklin and Waterfield. Van Brocklin had thrown for 554 yards in his previous game, which still stands as an NFL record. Graham was on his way to 10 consecutive championship game appearances, and threw for four touchdowns in the 1950 NFL title game win. On this day, Graham and the Browns came out on top 38-23.

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